The EARL Project - A Space-Capable UAV
The Spacefleet EARL Project is a design for a sub-orbital re-usable launch vehicle that will be able to loft payloads, up to a mass of 100kg, for engineering and space science research, into space, on a sub-orbital trajectory, reaching an apogee at not less than 100km. The vehicle will then return the payload to a runway landing. The vehicle is, in effect, a unmanned aerial vehicle ("UAV") that can travel into space. It will feature both autonomous and remote piloting.
Where EARL is an improvement over expendable launch vehicles is that it will be:
Cheaper to operate (because it is re-usable)
More reliable (same reason - using the same vehicle every time)
More convenient to use (payload is brought back to a chosen location)
Preliminary studies have been carried out on the vehicle hull design, and a consortium of companies, based in the UK, The Czech Republic, Ukraine, and Georgia, has been formed to build it. There is a small, but substantial launch market for scientific and engineering research payloads amounting to around 60 launches per year, worldwide, with individual launches costing around $1M, using expendable rockets and parachute recovery. With EARL, we can reduce the cost of launch to $400,000, initially and to much lower amounts later on.
The EARL Evolution Plan
Suborbital Spaceship (EARL SV) - Single Hull.
Orbital (EARL OV) - Uses Three Hulls To Reach Orbit.
Larger Orbital Craft - Uses Three Larger Hulls To Reach Orbit.